In a land where a werewolf army called the Sworn rule over the humans and walking corpses called treecrawlers roam the wilderness between settlements, orphaned Red has a secret that she and her grandmother have been hiding for years. She’s one of the Chosen, the despised young women selected to bear children in the stead of barren female werewolves.
Red keeps her identifying mark hidden, and she doesn’t take advantage of the luxuries available to the future mothers of the Sworn. But her secret is discovered when she rescues her rebel boyfriend from execution for treason, and she can hide the truth no longer.
Red is intercepted by a dangerous young Sworn named Vixor Rae, a prince among the werewolves, and taken through the dangerous wilderness to serve her fate in the capital.
Vixor intrigues Red against her will, but he is her enemy, and she wants nothing more than to see him dead.
But when treecrawlers attack the Sworn caravan headed for the capital, and only Red and Vixor survive, the two must rely on each other to make it out of the perilous wilderness alive.
I love a good fairy tail retelling, and quite frankly, the worldbuilding in this one was what drew me in. Werewolf overloads and zombie tree-people? Yessssss.
Ellison’s creative mind went to town expanding on a dystopian future where plant-life seems to have a vengeance against other living things: humans, bears, horses, you name it. I especially loved the amalgamation of tree zombies, with moss growing out of hollow eye sockets and vines bulging under gray, dead skin. It left me suddenly suspicious of the succulents growing in my bedroom, that’s for sure. And with a growing need to know more about this world Ellison has created.
My only problem was with the characterization. Red felt flat, doing the right thing every time, regardless of the consequences, and her motivations seemed entirely wrapped up in that selfless martyr persona. There are a few instances of this coming into play, with spoilers wrapped up in them so I won’t mention them outright, but I wanted to see a bit more of her flaws or desires coming through. She mentions numerous times that she doesn’t want to be a Chosen, but is it only because she doesn’t want to be ostracized by the village? Is it because she secretly wants to open up a bakery? Maybe she wants to start a family? I don’t know what she wants, but instead, what she doesn’t want and it made it difficult to resonate with her.
Vixor Rae, similarly, had some character traits that left me unsatisfied. In his introduction, we learn the Silver Wolf is a legend among the Sworn: he’s the most feared, from one of the most powerful werewolf families, and wears silver (which is poisonous to werewolves) in his armor. Sounds like a badass, right? But during the first skirmish in the book, he’s severely injured. And all that fearful, terrifying behavior I expected just…didn’t happen. He was Hamlet, conflicted and thoughtful with his tragic backstory, moving along in the story without taking action and seemingly fine with that lack of agency. Yet still, every other character feared him.
That being said, I did stay up until 2 AM on a weekday to finish this book. And even though I hated myself the next morning, I didn’t regret my actions. I enjoyed it immensely and am interested to see what happens with Red next. 4 out of 5 stars!